Erdem Moralioglu Talks Sustainability and the Future of Fashion

Related Article
Skip the French Riviera for This Turkish City
Read Article

In this new and confusing fashion era where brands are scrambling to adapt to the evolving consumer and her demands for instant gratification, one figure emerges who stands out against the din. Erdem Moralioglu of the house of Erdem has a singular story, one that especially bears telling in light of the industry’s new obsession with “see now, buy now” consumer access. In 2001, Moralioglu left his native country of Canada to move to London in order to earn an MA in Womenswear at the Royal College of Art, and later on went to New York to work with Diane von Furstenberg. Eventually, he struck out on his own and launched his eponymous Erdem label at London Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2006. In ten years, Erdem has gone from a relatively unknown entity in the fashion world to one of its most respected designers. What makes his “started from the bottom, now we’re here” story so compelling is that he was able to rise through the ranks to helm a multi-million-dollar brand in a relatively short period of time without the aid of external investment groups. His go-it-alone strategy means that he has been able to retain full creative control over his own brand – a rarity in today’s bottom-line-oriented business world. For that reason, his collections express a depth of emotion and tenderness that rank high for professional women, celebrities, and socialites alike.

During Moralioglu’s visit to Dubai, Savoir Flair had the honor of speaking to him about his views on the changing nature of the industry and his experiences with the Middle Eastern consumer.

Photo: Courtesy of Erdem

We perceive you to be something of a voice of reason in the fashion industry. Your opinion is often solicited on matters like gender equality in the fashion industry, or what to do about the “broken” fashion system. When it comes to the latter, there is no panacea that can be applied to every brand in the industry. As such, what are you doing to accommodate the modern consumer? Do you think you’d ever adopt the “see now, buy now” model?
I think we live in a very interesting time. I think the logistics of the “buy now, wear now” model, the idea that you would just create clothes without knowing who is going to buy them, seems like a very confusing, impossible, wasteful process. I think we have to tread very lightly. I am more interested in the idea of creating clothes for clients – either my own clients or wholesale partners like Harvey Nichols – Dubai. for instance. I feel like this “buy now, wear now” model is creating quite a bit of press, but more than anything I think it feels a bit confusing.

I feel like this “buy now, wear now” model is creating quite a bit of press, but more than anything I think it feels a bit confusing.

And not very thought through?
Erdem: I just don’t understand how it would work. Genuinely. I find it confusing. But I like to be described as the voice of reason [laughs].

So young and already the voice of reason.
Thank you! I wish I were. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Other than being a voice of reason, you have also taken on a role of educator in the fashion industry.
Wow, gosh! [Laughs] Yes, I did a lecture at Epsom University for the Creative Arts, and I taught at the Royal College of Arts, but I haven’t been there to teach for so long. I love the Royal College; it’s where I graduated from and I still go there from time to time to use our library. I loved my time there.

Why was it so important for you to take on this role and to give back to the younger generations?
I wish it were more of a role I could take. It’s something I have done a lot less of lately. I haven’t done any teaching in a while, but I definitely believe that my education meant so much to me and it really allowed me to be in the position I am in now. To celebrate my ten-year anniversary, we created a portfolio called Erdem X. We photographed one dress per year and it was ten images with Sølve Sundsbø, who is an amazing photographer. Along with the portfolio we included a book that had ten contributors who are very influential people from the industry and all of the proceeds from the sale of that book are being donated to the British Fashion Council MA Scholarship Foundation. It is the same scholarship that I won when I was a student. To go back to your point of why I think education is so important, I think it is completely important and really allowed me to do what I am doing now. So I was really thrilled to have had the opportunity to be able to give back. It is wonderful.

Our Fashion Features Editor interviewed an emerging designer in Paris a few weeks ago during Fashion Week called Nabil Nayal.
Oh yeah, Nabil! I remember him when he was a student.

He mentioned you as a teacher when he was at the Royal College.
That’s very sweet.

You seem to thrive at challenges in design. It’s almost like the more complicated the fabric, the more interesting it is. What is the most complicated garment you have ever put together?
There’s definitely Look One from fall/winter that was really technical in the sense of how it’s been cut. Elements of it are biased, there is no side seam, and it was made using this kind of jacquard that was developed in Italy, except we used the wrong side of the jacquard that then kind of morphs into embroidery and solid organza that had to be made in panels and then put together. So I’d say off the top of my head that that would be the one. I love fabric manipulation. I also love pattern cutting and the way something is cut and looking at how something can be cut in an interesting way, eliminating side seams. This season was particularly interesting from a cutting standpoint.

So you’ve had your label for ten years now. You’ve gone from an unknown entity to the head of a multi-million-dollar brand and all this time you’ve accepted no external investment. Why did you choose the path of independence? 

I’ve always abided by the ethos that if you can’t afford something then don’t do it.

That’s a very good question. I’ve been very fortunate in the way that my label has grown and it’s been, in a way, a very controlled growth, so I’ve been able to afford my independence. I’ve always abided by the ethos that if you can’t afford something then don’t do it. Wait. Hence, I waited ten years to open up my store. It’s something that I’ve been very fortunate to be, and something I’m proud of as well.

Photo: Courtesy of Erdem

We’re seeing increasingly young designers take the creative helm at big established houses that are backed by big conglomerates. Would you ever consider doing that?
As a designer, of course you have your dreams and Paris is a very desirable – the idea of an old house is a desirable thing – but at the moment I’m really focusing on my own house in London.

Your patrons include Michele Obama, Kate Middleton, and Lena Dunham. Do you feel like there is a common thread that unites all of these women? Do you think you can say that there is an Erdem woman and that you know who she is?
She’s so many different people. During my event in Dubai I met women who work in finance, doctors, gallerists, moms – I met so many incredibly amazing women that in a way it’s almost like after ten years of doing this I know less and less about her, because she is so varied. She is 18 years old and she is 75. She is really so many women, and I love that. I love that something that I do can be something that they absorb into their lives, no matter how different they are.


Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

What are your thoughts on slow fashion versus fast fashion?
I am on the side of slow. Slow is better.

I watched an incredible documentary about the effects of fast fashion on the world a few months ago.
The True Cost! I worked with Livia [Firth] who is in the movie and we created a capsule collection that was ecologically sound using fabrics that were very interesting, advanced fabrics developed from recycled fibers and things like that. It was amazing working with Livia. She is amazing; she is a real force and a true advocate.

So you would agree that sustainable design is important in the fashion industry?
It is important and it is something that all of us need to be aware of and something that I, myself, am learning more and more about.

One of the key points in the movie is the fact that the consumer attitude is now to buy clothes in the same way and as often almost as we would buy food.
When we grew up, I don’t think we ever had this concept of clothing where you could buy a T-shirt for two pounds. You would buy something and you would wear it until you grew out of it. It was never something that was so disposable. It’s very dangerous.

So it’s safe to say that a collaboration with a fast-fashion house is not in the cards for you.
[Laughs] Definitely.

Be in the know.
Every day, receive Savoir Flair's top articles straight to your computer or smartphone. It's never been easier to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle stories.
Click to get the latest news on your device
You can stop notifications at any time.
Unsubscribe from our notifications
Click to unsubscribe from notifications on this device.
Be in the know.
Every day, receive Savoir Flair's top articles straight to your computer or smartphone. It's never been easier to stay up-to-date on the latest fashion, beauty, and lifestyle stories.
Connect using Facebook Messenger